Switzerland, Day 9: Klettersteig Via Ferrata (Mürren-Gimmelwald)


When we were planning the trip, it was really important to SMS that we do a Via Ferrata, or Iron Path.  There are several in the Alps and, basically, you walk on the side of a cliff along hammered in rungs while double-clipped into a steel cable.  When you get to an iron stake securing the cable to the rock wall, you unclip and reclip one at a time so you always have one contact point.

Both of us thought it sounded really cool and it was a high priority. The easiest way to do it is to rent the equipment from a local outdoor store since the setup is different than a regular climbing harness.  Basically, it’s two carabiners each on a slightly springy energy absorbing lanyard, both attached to a climbing harness.  We rented the equipment the night before because we wanted to start before less-experienced people got on the trail.  Each morning, the store has a rush of customers when it first opens at 9 but by going within about an hour of closing the day prior, the woman had no problem renting us the equipment for a 1-day price.  This is only possible if you don’t need a lesson on the equipment, which I highly recommend if you feel unsure!

Via overview

We got on the Via Ferrata around 8.  We had it to ourselves, apart from three other people- all young men who were zipping along.  The Via Ferrata starts in Mürren and descends to Gimmelwald.  There are multiple rungs hammered into the cliff, narrow trails, multiple ladders and two bridges along the way.  Local guides have access to a lockbox that allows a climber to zipline across one of the gorges but for people on their own, there is an equally cool (cooler, even?) 3 cable bridge.


I had so much fun although my sporadic fear of heights kicked in on the Nepal bridge.  The initial part had handrails that were too high so I was just walking on an unstable planked narrow bridge.  Ack!  Don’t worry, I was definitely attached via the gear but I just really wanted to hold on with my hands too!

The Via descends over the course so it’s not too strenuous.  The biggest factor is going to be comfort with the equipment.  There are also outings and guides for hire, so don’t let inexperience stop you.  It is really fun and an incredible way to see one of the most beautiful valleys in Switzerland!  We were done by mid-morning and continued our day by traveling to Grindelwald.  See the next post!

The photos below are roughly in sequence on what you’ll see along the way (well, SMS won’t be there but you know, the trail!)…

Near the Start, secured to the cable
Base jumping station.  SMS was braver than I was.  Even secured in place, I thought “Hell no am I getting close to that edge.”  Base jumping scares me!
Hanging loose!
Tyrolienne (Zip Line nearby)
More trail-like
Steep ladders!
Nepal bridge

Nutcracker: Multi-pitch Yosemite Climbing!

President’s Day started off with another delicious breakfast.  After packing up, we said good-bye to Ron and Liz and headed out.  Unless it’s Summer and we’re camping, I would definitely love to stay at the Blue Butterfly again.  It was a great experience.
We went through the Rock Arch gate and this time, took a couple of minutes to stage a photo of SMS driving the Prius through the Arch.  Maybe it’s a little corny, but I thought the rock arch was really cool.
Go on with your bad self, lil’ Prius along with your incredible MPGs!

SMS and I headed straight to the Manure Pile Buttress to climb the Nutcracker, a 5 star, 5 pitch crack heavy route.  We started at the 5.9 alternative start, which was the most difficult pitch of the day.  I had a little trouble there but managed to work my way through the climbing problem and we were off!

Relaxing on the Ledge, Half Dome in the background
And then we slowed down.  The whole time we were there, only two pairs were climbing- us and the people we were directly behind.  Climbing can be a little tricky because you never know who’s going to show up and when.  As a result, we wanted to start climbing right away because we didn’t know if anyone else would show up.  In retrospect, maybe we should have chilled on the ground for about 45 minutes so we could have just kept climbing without long breaks but really, there was no way to know.
On the ledge

But it wasn’t that big a deal.  The weather was gorgeous and our longest wait was on a really comfortable wide ledge.


Taking a selfie from the hanging belay, right before starting Pitch 3

For the third pitch, SMS had to set up a hanging belay, which is a little scary if I overthought it so I tried to ignore the fact that two pieces of equipment and a really thick webbing was all that was keeping me from falling to the ground.  Instead, I just focused on happy thoughts and all the amazing beauty around me.  Cheesy but better than “Ohmygodimgoingtodie!!!!”

SMS climbing Pitch 3

The climbing conditions were spectacular.  There was a small trickle of water down one of the cracks on the third pitch, which is known to happen in the Winter.  It wasn’t too hard to deal with since there were multiple alternate dry footholds.  I personally struggled at the mantle crux, mostly because I was pretty tired at that point and it took me a few minutes to gather up the strength to pull and push over the top (that and a really good belay- thanks SMS!).

Panorama from the Top: Half Dome on the Left and the Sentinel behind, slightly to the left

We hung out for a minute or two at the top, admiring the view.  We didn’t hang around too long though because we had slightly underestimated our water needs.  As a result, we really wanted to get back to the car and the full water bottles inside.

We did it!

After the climb, we headed up the road to see the Tunnel View.  It was amazing!  I had actually told SMS we could skip it and just go get food, but he had said it was close.  I’m so glad he encouraged us to go because it was so much cooler in person.  I’ve seen some incredible photos of this view but it only imparts a fraction of the grandeur.  One of my favorite parts is seeing Bridalveil Falls in the right mid-ground because really, it’s so majestic it almost seems like a film set but then the continually moving water over the Falls made it look more “real.”

This made me flash back to a college religion class, Sacred Geographies

There were so many people taking pictures and we found someone kind enough to take our picture.

Re-hydrated but a little hungry!
We went to Yosemite Lodge and split a cheeseburger and fries.  We were planning on going to Commonwealth later so we didn’t want to eat too big a meal.  You know, a modicum of restraint a few hours before a cheesy delicious nacho feast!
When we were done with our tide-us-over snack, it was almost time for the Firefall.  We pulled into the El Capitan picnic area lot where we had parked for our Nutcracker climb earlier that day.  There were so many photographers in that area!  While the effect wasn’t quite as intense as Saturday’s, it was still pretty awesome and we were glad we stayed.  It was a great ending for our Yosemite trip!
Getting closer!
Firefall!  It’s a little hard to see in this photo but really, the water looks like magna!

We drove home.  On the way home, we stopped at Commonwealth and ordered the nachos and hush puppies-breaded corn dogs.  Both were delicious.  Not the healthiest but we were happy to have eaten from the snack menu.  The rest of the ride home wasn’t bad.  We got home a little on the late side, but we didn’t care.  The weekend was so amazing!

Jam Crack, Lemon, Pine Line: Day Climbing in Yosemite

I woke up really early on Saturday :/ and read for a bit outside on the deck.  It was beautiful but I got pretty cold.  I went back inside to warm up and then SMS and I headed downstairs for breakfast.
Breakfast consisted of a gluten-free quiche, gluten-filled seedy toast, fruit and yogurt, orange juice, coffee and tea.  It was delicious and filling.  We spoke with two fellow travellers who are roomates from Pasadena.  They were fun to talk to.  Ron and SMS spoke for a bit and I think they were starting to become BFFs!
Pine Line, El Capitan

We decided to head back to the climbing routes near the base of Lower Yosemite Falls.  The climbing area is known as Sunnyside Bench.  Our target: Jam Crack, a 2 pitch 5.7/5.9 crack climb.  We beat two other climbers to the base by about 5 minutes (yay!), so we started out unimpeded.  It was a really nice climb and I was surprised how well I did in the cracks.  In the past, I haven’t liked them too much because I hate the foot pinching that can happen when jamming feet into the cracks.  To imagine the pain, picture wearing really uncomfortable high heels for a few hours and then on top of that discomfort, occasionally trying to bend your foot in half length-wise.  Blech, no thank you!  But, even though there were a few of those moments, it was worth it to make the climb.  The view from the top was so beautiful.  It was a mental snapshot view since neither one of us had a camera but that’s totally ok.

Also, shout-out to the best rock climbing partner, SMS!  Obviously, I have a huge bias, but I think he’s amazing.  He’s also very kind and patient, which is a big deal.  I’m a far weaker climber than he is but he makes the day really fun and helps me out a lot.  An ideal rock climbing partner team would be closer in ability so that the two can swap leads, which is a faster way of going and gives the leader a little mental break between pitches.  Also, if I were better, I’d have more skills that would be a more secure back-up if we ever ran into a problem.  But, for some reason, SMS still likes climbing with me even though it’s more work for him.   Thank you SMS!
After Jam Crack, we climbed a flake layback which was tough.  SMS just told me its name is Lemon, which I get.  I basically “fell up the route” but overall, I’m glad that I tried it even though I lost my temper at one point since I was scared that I would fall and break my ankle(s).  Not the highlight of the day but SMS didn’t hold too much of a grudge (see!  Amazing!).
After Sunnyside Bench, we headed over to Camp 4 and the nearby Swan Slabs.  It was a little busier here with a few small groups and after pacing back and forth along the rock for a bit, we decided not to wait and to head over to El Capitan instead.
Pine Line, El Capitan

We hiked in and up to a ledge where we climbed Pine Line, a pretty fun crack that is an alternate start for The Nose.  We saw a few climbers high up on the nose, but still with a ways to go given the time of day.  No matter, we did our own thing.  There were two nice guys practicing their aid climbing but otherwise, we had little company.

Looking up The Nose.  Our rope for Pine Line is to the right.

We finished up and started packing up.  We headed over to the Cathedral Peak area to check out the view of Horsetail Falls.  I decided I liked being closer better but it didn’t really matter since clouds blocked the Firefall effect that night.

No Firefall tonight!

I wanted to see if we could get into the Ahwannee for a light dinner at the lounge that, unfortunately, is currently closed for renovation.  We tried to leave but traffic was terrible.  We parked in the Village Store parking lot and shared some chips and dip to wait out the traffic.

We headed back to the B&B and ate leftover pizza (glamorous!).  Then we planned out our next day.  Based on how (surprisingly to both of us) well I climbed that day, SMS felt good about going up the Nutcracker the next day.   Exciting!  A multi-pitch route in Yosemite!

Weekend Fun: Part 2, Pinnacles National Park

View from the High Peaks

On Sunday, we woke up in our awesome hotel and packed up quickly.  We were off to Pinnacles National Park for an awesome day of being outside and hiking!  We hadn’t brought climbing gear but we thought it would still be a pretty good day.

Before we left Monterey, we stopped at Caffe Trieste for breakfast.  It was pretty good.  The portions were huge, though.  I like getting my money’s worth but I hate wasting food.  It’s hard to combine safe food handling and doggy bags when traveling so there were a lot of breakfast potatoes that went into the trash!

On Juniper Canyon Trail

Pinnacles was a little over an hour away and we drove to the West entrance.  We stopped at the Visitor’s Center where I got an annual park pass for free, courtesy of the military discount.  Score!  I looked around the small center for a bit but SMS and I were getting a little antsy.  We drove into the Chaparral parking lot and decided to hike the 8.4 mile High Peaks to Balconies Cave Loop.  We set off along the Juniper Canyon loop which took us to the beginning of the High Peaks trail.  We took the “Steep and Narrow” trail since that one was reported to have better views.

About to enter the cave!

The rock formations were pretty epic.  They were so large and the rocks were starkly outlined against the bright blue sky.  It was a gorgeous day.  We spoke with a guy near the top of the Peaks who was holding an antenna that looked like it belonged on the roof of a house for an old TV.  He was tracking condors as a volunteer.  Apparently, there are just over 400 condors in existence, ~200 in the wild and ~200 in a captivity breed and release program.  This is up from a low of 22 in the early 1980s.  There are about 70 condors between Pinnacles and Big Sur.  We didn’t see any but it was cool to hear about the condors and conservation efforts from someone actively involved.  I also learned about the differences between California condors and turkey vultures in flight but that knowledge also went unused since we didn’t see any turkey vultures either.

Outside of the Cave

After traipsing through the High Peaks, we walked along the Old Pinnacles trail, which was about as wild as a gravel bike path.  This took us to the Balconies caves, which were pretty awesome.  It starts out in a slot canyon and then we actually climbed through a short cave system that had some vertical climb and a few really dark places.  Flashlights were definitely required.

I am strong like a rock climber too!

After the caves, we saw some climbers, which made SMS very happy.  It looked like the climbing was better than the reputation of the place gave credit for.  It may be too hard for me but I suspect SMS will be back!  The climbing was only 0.6 miles away from the parking lot so it would be a great place for a day trip.

After the hike, we got in the car and started driving home.  I was really hungry so we stopped in Gilroy for burgers.  I had the most delicious burger and sweet potato fries at Cafe 152.  I got the burger in a lettuce wrap and even though that’s one of the saddest ways to eat a burger, it was still amazing.  If you’re in Gilroy (outlets anyone?), a stop at Cafe 152 would be well worth it.

Then it was time to hit the road and head home.  I was so tired that night after such a great, active day!

Sporty weekend!

Last weekend, I was a little bit more sporty than usual.  On Saturday, I went to the Mountain View Running club meet-up, which is always a lot of fun.  It’s an easy 5K with a nice Starbucks hangout time at the end.

I cut it a little bit short because SMS and I went to the Old Pro in Palo Alto to watch the Williams vs. Amherst football game.  I met some new alums and saw a classmate of mine.  It was one of the better alumni events I’ve been to.

Afterwards, SMS wanted to go for a walk to bask in the sun.  We ended up walking over to Menlo Park and back, exploring the neighborhood and enjoying the day.  We also stopped into a running store and tried out the different fascial release/self-massage devices.  They were awesome, especially this one.

On Sunday, I met up with J to do our 13 mile long run.  It felt ok.  I need to eat more carbs and drink more water.  After Thanksgiving, my Whole 30 will be over and I can start eating more grains and runner friendly carbs.   I’m doing some reading on long runs and trying to strike a balance between getting the miles in, not pushing too hard and trying to up our pace a little bit so that we meet our pacing goals next March.

After my run, SMS and I went to the rock climbing gym because his plans were rained out by an early morning downpour.  I’m enjoying rock-climbing even though I was better when we were in San Diego.  I’m ok with being an amateur dabbler in that sport though!

Takatori-yama Climbing

Looking back, I cannot believe how much we did in a three-day weekend.  It was awesome to explore locally and have such a good time.   On Monday, we drove to Ikego and hiked to Takatori-yama, a rock climbing location we went to last December.  The hike is beautiful.  It starts off through the woods and then up many stone stairs to a small temple.  The temple is serene and beautiful with the tori gate, main building, bell structure and Jinz-o statues.  We pressed on.

Since we are expert hikers, we realized that we had taken a wrong turn when we were walking back down the (little) mountain.  Things look a lot different when trees have leaves on them in May vs bare in Dec!  So, we back-tracked and were also helped out by a Japanese guy singing in the forest.  No, he didn’t sing the directions to us (that would have been awesome!), but he cut off his singing when he saw our (ok, ok, fine, SMS’) giant pack and asked us if we were going to Takatori-yama and then gave us directions.
Bear right at this sign, not left

 We climbed for a couple of hours.  I am very rusty and the rock is kind of difficult for me.  It’s basically tightly pressed sand that starts to disintegrate and embed sharp little sand particles into my out-of-practice, non-calloused hands.  Ouch.  I am not the biggest fan of rock climbing hurting so it was a pretty light, get-back–into-it-slowly type of day for me.

Looking good, SMS!
After climbing, we called our friend Melinda and headed out near Enoshima to get breakfast at bills’.  We had heard a lot about it and so had everyone else.  The wait was two hours and even though it looked delicious, we needed food about 5 minutes ago at that point.  Part of that is my fault since we got 10 minutes lost while driving.  So we went to a little pizza place that was very oishii and all was right with the world again.
That night, we went out to dinner with two really good friends from San Diego.  I’m so happy they’re both here!  We went out to a little izakaya by their house and had a great time.  I feel so lucky to have great friends here so quickly.  In San Diego, it took me awhile to get settled in and if it took me too long here, it would be time for us to move again!